BY CHRISTOPHER ESSNER
Ever wish you could understand the thought process of Taliban members? What about experiencing the election cycle in the Philippines—one of the most dangerous places in the world? VICE, HBO’s new program based on the magazine of the same name, looks to take viewers to places traditional media outlets avoid or ignore.
As a 30-minute magazine style news program, VICE is looking to broaden its audience, and owner Shane Smith has gone so far as to say they are trying to be the next CNN. Many people are sure to have run across a VICE story or mini-documentary in a browsing session on YouTube, and the company has millions of followers around the world.
To succeed in its new show VICE will need to stand out from other magazine shows like 60 Minutes. On the the program’s premiere episode we followed two of VICE correspondents. The first story followed Shane Smith as he investigated the disturbing new trend in Afghanistan—child suicide bombers.
He interviewed those who were caught before they could detonate their vest, and the children said they were told they would not die from the blast. The most dangerous moment of this episode came when Smith met a high-ranking Taliban member who is known for kidnapping Westerners.
The other story followed a Philippine politician during the election cycle. The Philippines are known as one the most dangerous places in the world. It is in fact so dangerous politicians hire militias to protect them, and mini wars often break out in the Philippine streets.
As a 30-minute broadcast, the show can seem cramped for those wishing to get more context on the issues VICE covers, but for casual news consumers (people who may not pay attention to a very long segment) this is a format that works quite well. The correspondents appear quite often in the packages, taking up time that would be better served getting more information from the extraordinary characters they meet.
Where it does succeed is in drawing attention to issues the average American does not see covered elsewhere. As a premium network, HBO is also allowed to show things many traditional news media companies cannot show. VICE has had success by going for the extreme and generating shock value in the Internet culture.
All in all, VICE does more good for itself than bad, and the television program has potential to be a big steal for HBO. It will be interesting to see how VICE adapts and changes in the next couple of years. One thing is for certain, therer will always be interesting stories to tell from the far reaches of every continent. As long as VICE has people willing to go to these places, risking life and limb, the company will have a niche in the market.
The success or failure of this new venture could impact the media landscape for years to come. As many media companies see dwindling audiences and revenue, VICE may may just be able to buck the trend.